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Ford County Historical Society
Dodge City, Kansas

[Photo: William B. Bat Masterson, Ford County
Sheriff and citizen. All rights reserved, FCHS.]

William B. 'Bat' Masterson, Ford County Sheriff and Dodge City citizen. All rights reserved, FCHS.

W. B. 'Bat' Masterson
Returns to Dodge

(from Bat Masterson: The Man and the Legend, by Robert K. DeArment, Oklahoma, © 1979)

Bat's last visit to the milieu of that [his] stormy past was made in July, 1910, when he journeyed with Alfred Henry Lewis to Reno, Nevada, to cover the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries heavyweight title fight, one of Tex Rickard's first big promotions. Arriving on the scene early, Bat wired daily stories to New York [Morning Telegraph newspaper], describing the preparations of the battlers and the arrival of the hordes of sports from all over the world. The event developed into a sort of grand reunion for the gambling and sporting folk, and Bat recognized men he had not seen in twenty years.

     ...After reporting the action as Johnson pounded Jeffries into docile submission on the Fourth of July, Bat started back to New York. He rode over the Santa Fe line from Colorado into Kansas, the line he had traveled so often in those roaring, rollicking days that made up such a colorful period in his person history--and in the history of the nation as well. From the window of the coach, he looked out over fields that had reverberated to the thundering hooves of thousands upon thousands of buffalo and the boom of his Sharps Big Fifty before the steel upon which he now rode had been laid. Like the buffalo, the era had passed. It lived on only in the memories of men like himself, men who had contributed to its violence, its romance, its heroism, its greatness.

     Bat had his memories, but he was not a man who lived in the past. Where many another frontier veteran might have looked from that window and descried only the scenes of youthful adventures, Masterson saw what was actually there: a new Kansas. He wrote about it after his return:

In coming down the Arkansas Valley from Pueblo to Dodge...I could not help wondering at the marvelous change that had come over the country in the last twenty years. As I looked from the car window after reaching the Kansas line at Coolidge, I saw in all directions groves of trees, orchards and fields bearing abundant crops of corn, wheat and alfalfa.... The idea that the plains of Western Kansas could ever be made fertile was something I had never dreamed of. [New York Morning Telegraph, July 31, 1910]

     The train reached Dodge City at eight o'clock in the morning, and there was a thirty-minute layover for breakfast at the Harvey House. Bat bolted down his meal and stepped out onto Front Street to have a look at the old town. He stood on almost the exact spot where a grim-faced boy of nineteen had stood thirty-seven years before, awaiting the arrival of the train from Granada so that he could claim a long overdue debt. There, along the roadbed that he and his brother Ed graded, he had stacked stiff buffalo hides ten feet high, Old Tom Nixon, the greatest hide hunter of them all, toiling in the wagon bed at his side. How many wild-eyed law-breakers had he escorted to that old city jail across the tracks? It squatted peacefully now in the morning sun, but the bullet scars in its sturdy timbers were mute reminders of a deadly battle that had raged in the Plaza when Dodge City--and Bat Masterson--were young. Beyond the calaboose was the weatherbeaten building that had housed the Lady Gay Saloon. There, on the plank sidewalk, genial easygoing Ed Masterson had reached the end of the trial.

     As he stood at the doorway of the Harvey House, the Santa Fe snorting impatiently behind him, memories must have come flooding back to Bat Masterson: the dreams, the angers, the hurts, the triumphs. He was still touched with nostalgia for Dodge when he arrived at this New York office, and he devoted most of a column to the town and some of its lurid history. Then, with typical abruptness, he snapped back to the present:

But why dwell further on the subject--they are now but memories. ...Dodge City is now a thriving little country village, surrounded by a thrifty farming community. There are many of the oldtimers still living there and it is doubtful if they would care to live elsewhere. They are well-to-do and happy. And may they live long and continue to prosper, is my sincere wish. [Ibid.]

     The years apparently had healed the wound Bat received in Dodge, and he had at last forgiven his old enemies. When adversary Mike Sutton died at Dodge City in June 1918, Bat wired Mrs. Sutton: "Your telegram great shock to myself and wife. Dear good Mike the last of my life long friends is no more. Peace to his ashes." The old-timers were dying off, and the authentic Old West had passed away also.

[Ford County and Dodge City lawman William Bartholomiew (nee, Barclay) "Bat" Masterson was born in Henryville, Iberville County, Quebec, Canada, on November 26, 1853 and died at his New York Morning Telegraph desk on October 25, 1921. This excellent book is the one to have on Bat Masterson.]

Benjamin Cardozo Meets Gunslinger Bat Masterson,
from the New York State Bar Association Journal, July/August 2004.

(Ford County Historical Society, Inc.)

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